Shop Your Age: Choosing Food That Fits

Food for the ages: What to eat in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond

By SHARE

When juggling work, friends, relatives, exercise, and perhaps a little leisure time, food shopping is rarely No. 1 on our to-do lists. Like it or not, even with today's food-delivery services, we still have to make decisions about the best foods to buy for ourselves and our families. Although we all could benefit from making choices based upon the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and its MyPlate icon, we often choose foods for personal reasons—as a result of our desires, our companions, our environments, and our emotions.

Depending on age and activity level, we need different nutrients for the different cycles of life. Whether your body is young and quickly changing, or you're getting on in years and want to feel young, it's important that your food can meet your needs. And no matter how old you are, your supermarket has something to offer you.

Before creating your next shopping list, here is a brief cheat sheet to help you find the best food for every age: 

Children

Kids are growing fast and need a wide variety of nutrients to support their development. It may not be your job to eat the food that's put in front of them, but it's probably your responsibility to shop for and prepare what goes in their dishes. For growing bones, they need foods high in calcium like skim or 1 percent milk and low-fat cheese and yogurt. Serve up protein, fiber, and other nutrients with fun finger food like grilled chicken strips and string cheese or fruit to dip in yogurt and veggies to dunk in hummus.

Tip: If your child doesn't like the plain, non-fat Greek yogurt that you eat, try offering a flavored variety with 2 percent fat. It's a misconception that fats are "bad for you," and it's better to provide this rich source of calcium than to skip it. (Just check the labels for sugar content, because some yogurts are like candy in a container.)

Teens

Teenagers often opt for foods that nourish hair and skin and keep weight in check, but those selections may come at the expense of nourishing the rest of the body. The bottom line: They want to look good. They're not necessarily considering the long-term, potential health consequences of why they eat what they eat. Teens may still depend on their parents to provide food at home, but the eating habits of their friends and peers may wield great influence over what they eat outside the home.

Its important that teen boys get enough calories, especially if they are trying to stay in shape for team tryouts or ditching meals to make weight for the wrestling team. Teen girls rarely request liver for dinner, so meeting their iron needs could be a challenge. To ensure they get enough of this key mineral, teen girls should be encouraged to eat leafy greens and dried fruit on a daily basis, especially during the years of menstruation.

Tip: As parents, remember the importance of encouraging good habits, not obsessing over certain foods to help teens make better choices when they're not under your watch. Also, never underestimate your job as a role model. If you want your son or daughter to eat veggies, perhaps you shouldn't pass them up.

Twentysomethings

Meals made by mom or campus dining are a distant memory now. During this decade, you may be starting your first job and moving into your first apartment and finding you don't have much time or patience to prepare your own meals. This is an important time to solidify good habits. If you don't stock your fridge and cabinets with the right foods, they won't be there.

For young women, remember these are child-bearing years, so look for good sources of iron and folic acid in lean meat, leafy greens, and citrus fruits. Men need to remember to watch those calories from alcohol, especially as hectic work schedules may replace exercise routines. Ordering the light beer or glass of wine instead of spirits could raise your spirits when it comes to looking and feeling your best.

Tip: Late nights out could lead to a morning rush and skipped meals. Make breakfast simple—but make it happen. A Greek yogurt topped with some cold cereal and nuts is an easy, nutritious way to start the day.

Are you in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond? Please join me next Thursday by following part 2 of this story.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.